By Patrick-James Reyes
Platforms: Playstation 3/ Playstation 4/ Xbox 360/ Xbox One
It has been four years since Bungie’s last game. Now at last we arrive at a new frontier of their design in the form of Destiny, but what is it exactly? According to those at Bungie, they deem Destiny as a “bold new action game set in a living world.” It’s a world “unlike anything players have experienced.” as one video description for an ad describes, with another then-Bungie staff member also remarking how this social aspect was a key feature with players “colliding with other people in a big world.” A fact it seems, according to Staten, is not one that “happens in most action games.” Going into this review, it’s important to note such intent as the baseline surrounding this game’s philosophy as the destiny players will reach at the end of this journey is quite simply unfulfilled.
The Stars Beyond Reach
However, it appears that Bungie’s reach did not exceed their grasp as Destiny isn’t quite sure what it tries to be. It’s certainly no mere action game, for even the very same ViDocs linked above allude to mechanics more commonly associated with First Person Shooter Role Playing Game (FPSRPG) along the lines of Borderlands mixed in with Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) integration features akin to another console MMO shooter like Defiance. Yet in all ad appearances and even interviews, Bungie strays from outright calling Destiny as such. All the while they also attempt to insert a gripping narrative where players will “engage in epic story missions” whilst uncovering “the mysteries of [their] lost words” constructed in this brand new fictional universe. The amount of ambition placed into their new property is to be commended, but ultimately Bungie’s attempt to juggle all fronts leaves their “living breathing world” devoid of much depth or life.
The Good, The Bad, and The Beautiful
At the gameplay’s core, players select one of three character classes. There’s the Warlock, Hunter and Titan serving roles as supporters, rouges and tanks essentially. And of those three classes, there are three races of male/female gender to choose from as well from your standard human being, a strange humanoid race of blue skinned people known as The Awoken, and finally The Exo, sentient robots.
Once a character, a Guardian, is chosen you are brought forth into the world and are able to set foot on four relatively large and distinctly beautiful maps representing Earth, our Moon, Venus, and Mars with about 4-6 campaign missions on each map. There is also the ability to explore these maps freely outside of a campaign context for the sake of exploration or side missions. Outside of the campaign there is one strike mission per map (with the exception of one planet which has two strike mission) with which to provide a greater challenge for your guardian. Finally, at the time of this review, there is currently one Raid mission available which puts a large fireteam of Guardians through the ultimate dungeon challenge. Outside of these mission zones, there is The Tower in which Guardians can mingle and socialize with each other while they pick up new missions or shop for better gear.
And, if players are up for it, there’s competitive multiplayer to test one’s mettle against the might of another Guardian.
That’s all there is in a nutshell, and as an action game utilizing a middle ground of mechanics between a FPSRPG and MMO it certainly sounds like a good amount of content on paper. However, the problem lies in the execution.
The Art of Killing
At its forefront it should be made clear that gunplay is absolutely solid and a high point for this game. Bungie’s FPS pedigree shows in Destiny. After so many Halo games, Bungie has adopted the “Aim Down Sights” function in addition to adopting slide mechanics and a double jump (which seems to be all the rage nowadays), leading to far more tighter gun control and faster paced intense firefights between AI enemies and human controlled opponents than ever before.
Unlike previous two weapon slot systems, Destiny allows you to carry three weapons: a primary weapon, secondary specialist weapon, and a heavy weapon. In turn there are specific varieties within each categories. Primary weapons include fully automatic rifles, auto rifles, burst fire pulse rifles, single shot scout rifles, and hand cannons which are oversized powerful revolvers. Secondary specialist weapons include various shotguns, sniper rifles, and a type of gun called a fusion rifle which is good for dealing elemental damage and taking out enemy shields. Finally, heavy weapons come in the form of rocket launchers or heavy machine guns.
With experience points, weapons can also be leveled up and upgraded to add attachment like sights or special perks like a quick reload among other things to add to a sense of investment (key word here that’s going to repeat itself) and ownership in any weapon you find or worked hard to purchase. Which is a good thing, because there honestly aren’t that many guns in each category or specific weapon type which will be apparently once you start constantly finding the same guns you already own out in the wild or given as a reward.
Gunplay flows well enough, with each weapon giving off satisfying sounds and feedback at the pull of each trigger. Better yet, once they’re combined with grenades (which are unlimited though with a cool down as well as class specific trait attached to the explosive in question) and melees the classic Bungie golden triangle of balancing guns, grenades and melee comes into play to great satisfaction when facing off against hordes of AI enemies in the PvE environments or even players in the PvP “Crucible” arenas.
Added onto that are Supers which are abilities unique to each class that can either support other fellow Guardians or be used for offensive attacks. They take a long while to charge up, but once useable these abilities can be devastating in PvP to the point of seeming like cheap unbalanced crutches, but in PvE can be complete lifesavers in the most dire and overwhelming of situations. They’re also just plain cool to see in action and give the three classes something clearly distinct to differentiate one another in combat as gunplay is virtually the same for all classes.
In terms of PvE enemy types are as varied as one can expect from Bungie. Various enemy races have very distinct behavior types and weaknesses to exploit that makes combat feel fresh and exciting. The Fallen specialize in standard fare shooter tactics, taking cover from fire when they can and then sending a combined force of conventional melee and ranged units in combined arms tactics. The grotesque Hive focuses on overwhelming you with hordes of fodder through the use of their Thralls whilst having a backbone of sturdier soldiers and Wizards of the melee and ranged variety that benefit from magic-like buffs or attacks. The Vex are a mechanical race of beings whose tactics seem to be overwhelming players with even far more extreme numbers, with the lethality and intimidation factor of a bunch of T-800 Terminators marching towards your destruction. Finally The Cabal are hulking, yet surprisingly mobile, and have a focus on slow but steady advances against the player with an absurd amount of firepower and armor.
PvP through the Crucible is also fairly responsive and very fast paced, featuring a variety of familiar game types like Team Deathmatch (named Clash here) and Free-for-All (labeled as Rumble) as well as a few other game types with their own slight unique twist.
Ultimately, aside from the super abilities, the Crucible competitive multiplayer shares a lot of the intuitive feelings of previous Bungie made arena matches, and pairs them with the fast pace first person shooter gameplay of more recent (and soon to come) Call of Duty and Battlefield titles. As a result, while the gameplay in this section is fun and well built, it’s also simultaneously standard fare that doesn’t really revolutionize or add onto the genre. Unfortunately, that’s essentially the only component of Destiny that works well for what it is as everything else goes downhill from here.
Cracks in the (Plot) Armor
The more glaring issues present in a game touted as having an epic story is the seeming lack of one, which is what Destiny ends up delivering….
In terms of narrative framing, it is immediately made known to you that the forces opposing the last human city and the enigmatic spherical Traveler are making their final advances by surrounding and tightening their grip on the City. Naturally, you’re sent out to stop it, but there’s just zero personality to these missions. For something that’s being framed as an “epic campaign,” the gameplay consists of go to this one spot, then fend off three waves of enemy units. Then you’ll be rewarded with a thinly veiled narrative that’s told over the course of the game’s loading screen or one of four cutscenes. Were it not for the unenthusiastic voice acting the story may be just barely alright, but as it stands all talkative characters sound so bored that the looming narrative threat might as well be the common cold for all the urgency (or lack thereof) shown from beginning to end. It doesn’t help too that the only view of humanity we get is at the elite guardian Tower, where the NPCs don’t seem fazed and every player is busy partying like it’s the 1920’s. Even the ending itself will leave you feeling like your destiny must still be out there in the stars because the end couldn’t have possibly come that soon.
There’s no real true elaboration on anything, and in some moments the game practically mocks with you with that notion with one character known as The Speaker telling your character how he could elaborate on what’s going on, but doesn’t and instead goes on with nonsensical dribble and terrible dialogue. In many cases in fact, some of these written lines perfectly portray the issue with Destiny’s story. In another instance, for example, your character will interact with an NPC who appears after a very large battle in a very short cutscene. Despite the complete and total lack of action going on nor any pressing danger occurring this character immediately tells my Guardian that she, and I quote, “doesn’t have time to explain why [she] doesn’t have to explain.” And keep in mind this is said during a time where an entire room has just been cleared and there is not a single threat even remotely hanging over either character’s head at that moment.
Overall the story and universe lore leaves much desired in-game. So much so in fact that someone managed to accurately sum up (and without a single real spoiler mind you) how the dialogue and story of the entire game progress…in just two minutes, but that’s not the only thing lacking.
A Hollow Universe
Another front that Destiny fails to properly execute is its promise of a social experience for its players. Contrary to what’s said, it appears as though there are many systems in place or lacking rather to prevent true social interaction. For a (and to be fair it was specifically never mentioned to be an MMO) game that tries to emulate MMO-like features, they come off as half-baked. There’s only one single hub area in the entire game called The Tower. It’s the place where players turn in quests, get new ones, and interact with the player base…which is limited to about 14 or so players at a time. Even then, at best, the only way to communicate with these other guardians is via emotes. The most commonly used, and admittedly downright hilarious, is the dance feature which usually elicits similar responses and eerie gathers of silent players altogether in one spot, but the problem is that there’s a complete and total lack of in-game chat functionality for this hub. The only way to communicate with other players is to outright invite them into your party chat which can be an annoyance at best, and an intimidating notion at worst. Such an intentional design choice seems counterproductive to the goal of creating a social experience.
Compounded onto this is the lack of interaction with NPCs as well. Aside from ambient dialogue and simple greetings, there are no major lines of dialogue between any of the NPCs present in The Tower, which is a shame as it eliminates any sense of real identity or liveliness to the space. Despite their unique names, and in some cases rather incredible backstories (more on this in a bit), there is practically zero personality to gleam from these vendors. You could replace each one with a cardboard cutout of a single image and you’d still get the same characteristics across the board. A shame, as well as this leaves only five characters for your guardian to interact with who will paint the tone of this new living universe. And even then, those characters don’t give out much of an impression with their less than enthusiastic voice work.
Added to that even further is the fact that the worlds themselves are vastly underpopulated. Yes, these zones are populated with tons of enemies – enemies whose only goal in life is to wait at a spot for you to stop by so you can shoot them in their heads (or bellies) for massive critical damage, but there’s nothing more to it. By all means the locales are absolutely stunning and varied across the various planetoids, but there’s just nothing of depth beyond enemies to kill and a singular item type to scavenge. There are no friendly NPCs to encounter, no unique idle enemy behavior types to add a sense of livability beyond just waiting for you to start a fight, no ambient wildlife aside from birds, and while you may occasionally find other guardians out in the wild, again the lack of ability to interact beyond four emotes makes any contact with friendly humans a moot point. If anything, it ironically enough makes them come off more like generic allied NPC fodder than actual players.
On that note, when it comes to grouping up for the sake of tackling missions, for some perplexing reason teams are restricted to only three players. This situation is made frustratingly more difficult by the fact that there is no matchmaking beyond doing random Strike missions for the PvE areas. So more often than not, if one finds themselves without friends online there will be difficulty in establishing a good fireteam from the sea of miming strangers at The Tower. On the flip side, if players are used to playing with at least three other teammates or more to form squads of four as with usual co-op games nowadays, there will usually be a player left out to rot and be forced into the former situation. Only the raid, of which there is currently only one of, allows six player fireteams, and even then these six must all be friends beforehand, leading to logistical issues that make the organization and ability to conduct this raid essentially impossible through in-game means.
Back to exploration: There are vast worlds with various nooks and crannies to them, but half of them will lead to dead ends with the other having treasure chests full of practically nothing useful, and such finds just make any prospects of adventuring around feeling pointless as there’s barely a sense of discovery to be had. “Patrol Missions” attempt to inject side quests that ultimately boil down to kill this or step here, but because you’d already be doing that before even activating a single one there’s zero aspect of it adding depth beyond just adding an extra multiplier to gaining experience. There are collectibles placed throughout as well in the form of dead Ghosts, which can be redeemed for lore cards called Grimoires that flesh out the universe’s rather interesting backstory (not that it matters since it’s not really acknowledged in game)….but in order to access them, you’ll need to take time off away from the game to read all that stuff on Bungie’s website rather than in-game.
Again, just leaving the game itself devoid of any meaningful depth that makes the universe alive versus just a virtual spot artificially injected with fluffed up excuses to pad “exploration” time.
It’s a wonder why people would stay with such a title, but it comes down to one love it or hate it factor in the end…
Gears to Grind
And that factor rests on whether or not you’re okay with grinding for the sole purpose of gathering loot to use in PvE missions in which you try to find and earn better loot. Yes, for a game that touts itself to be an action game and very well avoids ever using the phrase MMO as a descriptor for itself one of the most basic, though addicting, aspects of Destiny comes in the form of MMO-like repetition through repeating story missions, strike missions, and Crucible games all for the sake of finding better gear to outfit your respective Guardian for the sake of going through it all over again. And in the case of Strike missions it can be a particular chore as bosses take a ludicrous amount of time to get their health chipped down to nothing. That doesn’t even remotely come close to the intense gauntlet run that is The Vault of Class raid which, at the time of this writing, has only be conquered by a few hundred groups with the first taking over eleven hours with over one thousand deaths accumulated in that time.
But ultimately, it’s a bare bones system of grinding presently that really has no true payoff at the moment aside from using the very best gear for the raid, and only the most focused and most willing to completely ignore just how bare bones Destiny is can derive enjoyment out of the menial repetitive task. There is no trading system, no crafting, and when it comes to Crucible multiplayer all gear is autobalanced out to prevent advantages between players making its worth in raw power or defense absolutely worthless as it becomes par with the lowliest of gear.
Yet that’s all players will currently have to look forward to, as there’s not much else to do in the world of Destiny until Bungie adds more to the game via the two upcoming expansions, the first of which is set to arrive in December…
At the end of the day, if you haven’t already purchased Destiny at this point, here are the key things to consider:
First of all, despite the ad blitz, this game is not an action game set in a living social world. Instead, it’s a hybrid FPSRPG in the same vein as Borderlands with further added elements centering on MMO-like features such as loot grinding and group stats. It should also be mentioned that regardless of whether or not to play by yourself or with friends a la Borderlands, you must always be online regardless of platform.
Second, despite being MMO-like, this game does not support the proper tools to truly feel like an MMO. You will encounter other players, but you will not have the proper tools nor will you feel like you’re in an MMO world thanks to the absence of chatrooms or ambient mic talk. Despite a matchmaking system for the fairly standard fare multiplayer suite the Crucible provides and a minor matchmaking system for Strikes, it is extremely encouraged to have two friends to bring with you when playing this game, as well as three more in reserve to experience the raid mission.
Third, for all its talk of an epic campaign, the actual in-game campaign and lore content is sorely lacking. Be aware for those interested in story content, you will be forced to experience Bungie’s signature expansive lore telling….on their website….and only after you’ve collected and grinded for a crap ton of fact cards in game.
Fourth and finally, despite all the weak points, Destiny is definitely a beautiful game with shooting mechanics that are solid and with nary a technical issue in sight.
That being said, Destiny is not a bad game to play. But for a game billed as a new experience, there is much left to be desired, as the overall presentation that tries to wrap itself around the whole gameplay package is loose and doesn’t meld all its ideas together into one strong new entity. Instead, it feels like a diet cola version of all the various game game genres cobbled together into one.
Now, Bungie has mentioned that there will be constant updates and tweaks to the game throughout its lifespan, but be forewarned that the exact extent of these free updates in addition to the amount of content in both announced expansion packs is unknown. So any purchase at this point will feel like a risky investment into the game’s growth and is currently not recommended.
Still the choice is yours. After what you’ve read here today, will you choose to claim the Destiny before you? Or will you cast it aside and forge your own new path?
Have any questions about the game? Or perhaps comments after having played it? Leave your questions, comments, and feedback (in favor of or opposing) in the comments section below to see what discussions you and and your fellow gamers can open up!